"For the past. For my own path. For surprises. For mistakes that worked so well. For tomorrow if I'm there. For the next real thing. Then for carrying it all through whatever is necessary. For following the little god who speaks only to me." ~ William Stafford, 1914-1993
As the page turns a year and we enter the year of the dragon, it is once again time to make the obligatory New Year’s resolutions that typically fall by the wayside, forgotten, by mid-year. After the spectacularly terrible end of a less than illustrious decade, we forge ahead into the second decade. Though the end of the Mayan calendar this year predicts the end of the world, still, we might benefit from looking farther out to make career plans and set success goals just in case.
I often ask clients initially where they see their career ten years from today in terms of position, level, achievements and goals reached. Some have an answer but with no clear strategy or goals in place to get there. Many haven’t vetted their plans. Others are simply not looking that far ahead.
The recurring comments from executives at all levels facing the prospect of a career transition in the current economy is a frustration or near bewilderment with the process. The old routes to new opportunities have dried up or don’t function as before. They may have relied on mentors, colleagues, search firms, and college recruiters during better times. Many now rely on pursuing and applying to job postings – if they can find them- rather than executing a strategic career transition plan.
Time to Reflect, Ironically
When career paths are determined by the opportunities offered up, there is never the opportunity to carve out our own trajectory. The ironic benefit of an average executive search taking 6 months or much longer is that there now ample time and incentive to determine a career plan and act on it. Stepping back from a ten year career plan to gain perspective, we can determine the interim moves and immediate initiatives needed to arrive at that destination.
However, people tend not factor in the future nor do they take the long view of events, things and changes that affect even the best career transition plan over time. We don’t pay attention, preferring the known to the new and different. Often we dismiss or categorize change into pre-existing mental buckets becoming remarkably blind to unintended consequences that will impact our career and business success.
There are three key areas of change that have consistently affected how we do business and career success: new innovations, population demographics, and global or regional circumstances. The first area seems to continually gain momentum without the comfort of our acclimation. While the second is more predictable, it seems to be most ignored (except by consumer marketers) for career opportunity cost. Finally, the last tends to blindside us the more we immerse ourselves in the habitual, the norm, and the conventional.
Given the access to information and analytical tools we have at our disposal, it is no longer impossible for the layman to be a futurist. Predictions are now mainstream and widespread but predictions are nothing if not acted on. Taking the long view on those areas of change enables us to see the impact on our industry, profession and livelihood.
The Huffington Post listed 12 technologies that became obsolete last decade that did a survey on the tools and technologies that are now obsolete Yellow Pages, encyclopedias, CDs, land lines, phone calls, newspaper classifieds, hand written letters, dial-up Internet, film, wires, catalogs, and dictionaries. We will probably see printed books, and broadcast television follow shortly. Where will the printed book be at the end of this decade now that tablets have taken hold? It is hard to believe that in ten short years we have seen entire industries upended, transformed or disappear.
Every industry has been touched by technological innovation in the past 20 years from manufacturing to services. How, when and where we conduct business and make career transitions have been dramatically changed by new technologies. Out-sourcing, off-shoring, distributed teams were not mainstream resource management tools even ten years ago. At the same time resume distribution has moved from post, to fax, email and now to websites and social networks. Check out my new e-book, The Digital Resume.
How will upcoming technologies impact how you do business and manage your career? In 2003 when Linkedin.com was founded, most people ignored and even actively avoided providing much public information about them online. Now whole industries have sprung up helping people and organizations to leverage their brand visibility through social networks and the Internet.
I regularly build professional websites (click to see example) for my clients as part of their branding and self-marketing initiatives. This would have been unheard of a few years ago because the high cost and complexities of web technology and tools limited website development to technology professionals and businesses. Today it is both affordable and a competitive advantage.
Taking the long view on the bleeding edge of innovation, what can you see coming in terms of new technologies and innovations in your industry or sector that you can leverage to have first mover advantage?
How can you take optimum advantage of all the social media and social networking tools to build your career reputation, and gain greater visibility over others competing for the same hearts and minds as you are?
Strauss and Howe wrote a book in 1991 called Generations: The History of American’s Future 1584 to 2069. They identified a recurring pattern of four personality behavior styles each style consistent to one generational cohort. These behavioral types have repeated since the founding fathers up to present day. Their generational descriptions are stunningly accurate in hindsight and eerily prophetic in foresight.
Strauss and Howe’s trustworthy profiles of Gen Y (30 and 40 year olds) have proactively motivated Human Resource departments and consumer marketers to scramble to understand and respond to the upcoming under-thirty cohort, the Millennials.
How can you leverage market and business opportunities inherent in capturing the hearts and minds of upcoming generational cohorts? For example, how do we work with, manage, or work for a generation that would prefer texting over a phone call? How will this generation impact all our career choices and changes?
We tend to turn a blind eye on the generational changes happening before us until they gain an unyielding power or become a force to be reckoned with. Does that leverage the long view?
“The start of a new year is a chance to plan ahead before history changes everything.”
N. Gibbs, Time Magazine, January, 2010
Life happens while we try to keep up. We are most blind-sided with the big picture. On a geo-economical level, often the long-view is blithely ignored. We think that some day we will deal with a 10-point earthquake near a major metropolitan area or the final drop of oil pumped from all known oil fields or a market collapse threatening the balance of global economic systems ….but not today. Then tornadoes and a tsunami from hell happens and obliterates entire geographic regions leaving a trail of tragedy.
Many have resisted, resented or have been overwhelmed by the the relentless drive of economic globalization. Jobs have moved across borders and continents. We work with teams distributed to the ends of the earth and are challenged by the cultural and communications gaps that arise.
Others have floated above it all and taken advantage of this destiny-altering change. The Atlantic magazine published an article entitled, The Rise of the New Global Elite (click to read it). The advent of the borderless executive has arrived. I have a client, for example, who was born in India, educated at a top US business school, and now works in France for a UK company.
How can we step back to plan our careers and lives with a response to a long view that is appears at first too far off to see or comes at us like a fire hose ? We can factor in the unexpected in contingency plans, alternative options, and course-correcting alternatives.
No one road leads to a given career goal so we should plan for multiple routes.
The Long View
Obsolescence is built into all the above scenarios on both a functional and personal level. Innovative technologies change industries. Their products and services become commoditized or non-competitive. Likewise, our attitudes and views become crystallized into a litany of repetitive assumptions and beliefs about employment, careers, and doing business that are no longer applicable or relevant.
The antidote is simple: a willingness to be open to change while making a good effort to see it coming. Willingness is the key to accommodating change.
When life comes at us too fast, we can opt to not close down to the inherent possibilities when taking the long view.
Have a great year!